NEW YORK, JANUARY 20, 2023 — The Israeli government’s plan to forcibly displace 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank is unacceptable, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Israeli authorities must immediately halt this eviction plan and stop implementing restrictive measures that impede the ability of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta to access basic services, including medical care, said MSF. MSF currently provides medical care to the area’s residents—many of whom are in need of mental health support as they struggle with stress and uncertainty related to the planned evictions.

Palestinian Territories 2023 © Salam Khatib/MSF

“This plan would mean the imminent forcible displacement of almost the entire population of Masafer Yatta,” said MSF head of mission David Cantero Pérez. “Where are all these families to go? This is completely unacceptable. People there live in constant fear. The mental health impact on residents—particularly on children—cannot be understated. In periods where more home demolitions occur, our mental health team receives more people with symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

This latest announcement by the newly sworn-in government follows previous pressure on people in Masafer Yatta to leave the area. As well as demolishing people’s homes, officials have installed checkpoints that make it difficult for people to reach health clinics, confiscated residents’ vehicles, and enforced curfews and other movement restrictions, including during medical emergencies. These measures, which have intensified in recent months, have severely impacted people’s freedom of movement, mental health, and ability to access basic services like medical care.

In the 1980s, Israel designated Masafer Yatta as a military firing zone. In the decades since, Palestinians living in 12 villages scattered across the region have seen their homes repeatedly demolished and have lived under the threat of forced displacement.

One elderly woman described to MSF staff the moment that Israeli authorities came to demolish her home for the fourth time in two years: “I felt like I was suffocating, like I was blind, like my hands were tied. My children were in school when the demolition started. They came out to watch. They were in shock and in complete silence.”

Many people’s situations deteriorated further in May 2022 following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court which removed all legal barriers to the forced displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta to make way for the military zone. Palestinian officials confirmed that, as of this month, most people in Masafer Yatta have received demolition orders and are at imminent risk of being forcibly displaced.

“They choose the winter for demolishing houses,” another resident told MSF. “Tonight, our family will sleep in the car, or in a tent in the cold. It’s going to be 5 degrees Celsius [41 degrees Fahrenheit] tonight.”

MSF teams run three clinics in the Masafer Yatta area, providing people with basic health care. This includes mental health support and sexual and reproductive health services—with a focus on women and children—as well as care for people with chronic diseases. In 2022, the MSF team provided 3,066 medical consultations in the area.

www.doctorswithoutborders.org